We understand that waiting to find out your exam results can be an extremely nerve-wracking experience. It is important to know that feeling some kind of stress is a completely natural reaction. But, if it becomes persistent, if it never gives you a moment’s peace, it is important to take action to stop those nerves from affecting your health and well-being.
Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at Priory Group has looked at ways you can reduce your stress to prevent it from affecting your physical and mental health. Some of her suggestions are as below.
It’s Good to Talk
There will always be someone you can talk to when you feel worried about your exam results or your future. Whether it is a parent, carer or friend, you should discuss your thoughts and emotions with them when you feel troubled. A parent might be able to help you challenge your worries by providing you with evidence that your thoughts are not a balanced view. For example, they will be able to reassure you about how much revision you did and how well you have performed in past exams.
You may want someone to lend an ear or distract you with a quick chat or offer of advice. By taking the time to access this emotional support, you have the opportunity to let off steam and is so doing prevent your feelings from boiling over. There are also supportive charities like Child Line and the Samaritans who can be contacted anonymously over the phone or through web chat.
When you get anxious, your “fight or flight” response kicks in, where your body releases adrenaline and increases your heart rate. Breathing deeply can help your body to settle down to a more natural state. Imagine, then, blowing into a balloon: As you take a deep breath in, notice your stomach rising as you allow your lungs to take in the maximum amount of air. Then slowly breathe out imagining you are filling the balloon with air. Try and do this three times.
Keep Yourself Busy
Try and ensure you have structure and activities each day. For example, give yourself a project to complete over the summer, look at voluntary or part-time work, organise social activities with your friends and help out at home. If you keep yourself busy, you have less time to sit and dwell on your thoughts. You will also feel better about yourself as you have been able to achieve something.
Getting Good Quality Sleep
We understand that getting a good night’s sleep may seem impossible because of your nerves, but it is important to try your hardest to get into a good routine. Go to bed and wake up at similar times every day, and make your bedroom a relaxing space, with any screens turned off at least an hour before bedtime. Avoid caffeinated drinks in the hours before bedtime and try to fit in at least twenty minutes of exercise each day – but again, not too close to bedtime.
Form a Plan for Results Day
Think about all the possible outcomes on results day, and jot them down. Then, write a potential plan for each one. For example, if you were to get your expected grades, what happens; If you get lower than expected, what would your next steps be?
This can help you to recognise that there are options and a future for you, regardless of what happens. It can stop yourself from worrying about the unknown, because it means you have a plan for every scenario.
Tackle Your Negative Thoughts
It is easy to gravitate towards the worst case scenario when you’re feeling anxious. Do you believe you failed your exam spectacularly? Do you think you’re going to get terrible grades across the board? There are steps you can take to question and alter these thoughts:
Then, write down a healthier way of thinking about the situation. For example, instead of thinking that you’ve failed an exam, you may want to think, “I know it was tough, but I worked so hard that I know I tried it my best. I’m proud of the work I put in.”
Completing this activity at the end of every day will stop you from focusing on potential negative outcomes during this stressful time.
If your stress levels don’t seem to be getting any better, you should visit your GP. They will be able to provide you with the right support you may need at this time.
State education is on the brink of crisis. According to the Teacher’s Review Body, and supported by independent research, the number of secondary pupils is predicted to rise by 17% between now and 2023. Yet at the same time there is a short-fall in the number of trainee teachers needed to fill present vacancies in a number of key subjects. Young graduates continue to be deterred from entering the profession by, amongst other things, a perceived lack of government support, whilst current trends also indicate a long-term decline in the number of women entering teaching. Experienced teachers, meanwhile, are taking early retirement, with many preferring to opt for part-time work as private tutors. This year will also see a significant reduction in school procurement budgets.
Parents have been quick to react to these changes. Since 2011, there has been a 65% increase in the number of children officially registered as home educated. Currently there are just over 36,000 children receiving out of school education, out of a total school population of 9 million – a small percentage, perhaps, but one that is on the increase, and these figures do not include fifth and sixth formers using distance learning materials out of school to study for their GCSE and A levels.
Traditionally, the reasons given by parents withdrawing their children from full-time education include family lifestyle, special needs, religious convictions, bullying and dissatisfaction with the quality of education provided by the local authority. Increasingly, a lack of specialist qualified teachers is placing a strain on fifth and sixth form provision, affecting languages, science, maths, business studies and IT. The failure to recruit these specialists means there is little scope for broadening the curriculum in ways required by industry and commerce. It may be said that some subjects, such as economics, are actually now being maintained via the use of distance learning.
These changes suggest a shift from the rigid “one fits all” model of education to a far more flexible system – a sort of halfway house, where some provision is provided wholly in school under the supervision of a teacher, whilst other subjects are “bought in” and worked on, out of school hours.
As schools struggle to cope in the present financial climate, distance learning and home tuition is likely to grow. It is, of course, not a universally popular phenomenon; many will argue that this is really the privatisation of education by the back door and therefore to be deplored. Detailed information about the quality and success of home education is, according to one authority, incomplete and in need of improvement. Obviously, if the system is not adequately policed, such concerns can be considered valid. However, if the emergent hybrid is well monitored, as it usually is, it could act as a novel way of maintaining subject provision, and further, of introducing new subjects, such as economics, computer programming or financial accounting into an increasingly arid sixth form provision.
Finally, it is also true to say that hard times such as these will always maintain and emphasise the need to stimulate initiative and change. For those who do not find a home in the mainstream system, home education should be an alternative well worth considering.
The obsession with exam results and statistics that comes around every year seems to me to be driven by the media; they do not need to report on it in the way that they do every year. It is always on the national news as well as the local news and most times I think to myself, ‘but this is not news.’ Unless there is a dramatic, and more importantly, unexpected change in the overall picture, then there is nothing to report.
My feelings as far as the media are concerned are that they like to look for someone to blame no matter what happens, and they appear disappointed if it is not a year to find culprits, but they will report anyway because next year they might be able to do some blaming. Even if there is a change for the better, they often seem to look for a negative if they can find one. I feel sorry for the students being exposed to this.
Of course, successive Governments and Ofsted have played a major part in creating this annual frenzy, through their punitive attitudes around performance and progress, but whether they change their approach or not, I feel that the media will carry on in the same way as it is now tradition.
Think on this: why don’t we hear the same stories about University students each year? Not important, not interesting? Perhaps it is not news.
In an open letter published in The Guardian this month, academics from around the world called for an end to the PISA test. In the strongly-worded letter, they argued that the PISA test, which ranks the education systems of different countries around the world, should no longer be taken by students. Here’s a quick review of the test, its advantages and its critics, to help you form your own opinions on the matter.
1. What is the PISA test?
The PISA test is an examination which is taken by 15 year olds from 65 different countries across the world. The results from these tests, which consider a student’s abilities in maths, problem solving, reading and science, are collated and analysed, and this data is used to rank the education systems of the 65 participating countries. In this way, an educational league table is produced every three years, giving a snapshot of each country’s education system and allowing them all to see how they compares to their neighbours.
2. What are the benefits of the PISA test?
Education is important. The quality of education that a student receives has a huge impact on their final qualifications, on their job prospects, and often on their happiness as well. The quality of education experienced by students can also have a big impact on a country’s prospects and economy as well. It is vital that governments and policy makers keep a close eye on the quality of education that their students receive. Comparing their current performance in the PISA test with that of other countries, and that of their previous performances, is one such way to do this.
3. Are there any criticisms of the PISA test system?
Critics argue that the difficulty of the test cannot be standardised across all 65 countries. They argue that a question considered difficult by a child brought up in one culture might not be considered difficult for a child in another. The league tables, if this is the case, would be significantly flawed– like comparing the racing performance of two runners over a set distance, but with one running across flat, smooth terrain and the other running off-road up a mountain.
Furthermore, critics argue the fact that these tables are produced every three years encourages short-term fixes in education policy, intended to improve a country’s ranking in the next published table. It is exactly these short-term, quick-fix policies that are considered by teachers to be detrimental to their teaching practices, and therefore detrimental to the education of their students.
Another criticism of the league tables is the fact that they concentrate on such a small range of skills and subjects, without taking into account the student’s creative or cultural knowledge. This narrows the curriculum, again reducing the quality of education that a student receives.
4. What do teachers and pupils think of PISA?
An informal, unstatistical analysis of my colleagues’ opinions of PISA reveals a significant level of disinterest. Either they are unaware of the publication of the league tables, or they are dismissive of the importance of the results. For students, already heavily tested throughout their school careers, the prospect of an exam which has no real impact on their lives or future prospects is, unsurprisingly, an unattractive one. It seems that the PISA test is beneficial only to policy makers and governments – but not to the students whose very education it monitors.
Although it pains me to say this, there is an exceptional time when children should be able to take time off school during term time. This is for one instance only: Health.
This could really be considered as compassionate grounds and some may say, a different criteria, but nevertheless, I feel it is the only time that absence from school for a holiday break should be allowed.
If a close family member finds themself with a life-changing, life-threatening or terminal illness and that opportunity to spend quality time together that will never be recaptured and cannot wait, then ‘yes’, a student should be allowed time off.
However, if a parent bleats that they cannot afford a family holiday during the school holidays, or that they cannot take time off at the same time as the student, the answer is a definite, ‘No’. If this sounds harsh then so be it. Life can be harsh and compromises have to be made along life’s pathway. What sort of lessons are we teaching our offspring if we just ‘take’ what we want? There are consequences to breaking the rules and we have to be aware of these and accept them if we overstep the mark – as one family currently in the media are experiencing.
As far as home schooling goes, my answer would be much the same except for another defining factor. That is, are the students working through term times as part of their study plan? I know I am! As their distance learning tutor I am making myself available 52 weeks a year for any contact they wish to make in order for them to get the best possible experience from home schooling. Therefore, if they are working the length of July, August and September and then take two weeks holiday in October, I consider this has been earned. But if they took the customary six weeks’ school summer holiday because siblings were off school and then took another two weeks in October, I would be unimpressed and very disappointed. Moreover, the parents would not, I imagine, suffer the vitriol of the LEA.
Home schooling is not an easy option and has to be well organised, motivated and requires commitment from all family members. That commitment usually requires more time in lessons, not less. As long as the student and parents are clear that home schooling is flexible but not a permit to do as they please without consequences, then that commitment will reap rewards. After all, LEA aside, the consequences are exam results!
One quarter of parents are considering investing in some form of home schooling over the summer holidays to ensure their children’s grades don’t slip, according to a recent survey. The poll of 1,000 primary school parents, carried out for an online tutoring company, revealed that a fifth of respondents already hire tutors to teach their children at home in order to help them be the “best in the class”.
This home tutoring is said to be an attempt to mitigate the “summer slide” – that is, the tendency for pupils’ grades to slip back over the long summer break. Research has shown that students fare less well in tests sat at the end of the summer holiday than they do in the same tests at the start of it.
Even if they were not planning to hire a tutor, the majority of parents said they planned to undertake some kind of educational activities with their children over the holiday, including reading books, helping with revision and investigating literacy and numeracy mobile apps.
However, Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, cautioned parents not to forget the purpose of the summer holidays. “Children need a break from learning pressure and time to play – which is itself educational,” she said.
The number of children being home-schooled in the USA has risen by 75 per cent since 1999, a new report published in Education News has revealed. Four per cent of pupils in the USA are now studying at home, and the number of primary school children in home schooling is growing seven times faster than the number enrolling in state education.
Not only is home schooling taking off in the USA, but students are also performing better. The report states that on standardised exams, home-schooled pupils achieve “consistently high placement” – between the 65th and 89th percentile on average, compared with traditionally-educated pupils who average around the 50th percentile.
This success also seems to carry over when they leave home for college or university, attaining four-year degrees at higher rates than pupils in public and private schools – to the extent that they are actively recruited by Ivy League institutions. Home-schooled children also exhibit “no difference in achievement between sexes, income levels, or race/ethnicity”, according to Education News.
Commenting on the data, Dr Brian Ray of the USA’s National Home Education Research Institute said he expects “to observe a notable surge in the number of children being home-schooled in the next five to ten years”.
Is it fair that the quality of the education received should be considered alongside the bare statistics of exam results by universities seeking new students? Deborah Orr of the Guardian certainly thinks so. For her, exam board AQA’s plan to rank A-level students according to the school they attended seems not radical, but rather a scheme whereby more detailed information is imparted.
Britain’s biggest exam board, the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), has floated the idea at the party conferences, arguing that it might help universities identify bright pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Neil Stringer, author of the proposal and a senior research associate at the exam board’s Centre for Education Research and Policy, suggests students should be awarded an exam score based on their three best A-level grades, then put into different performance bands.
Those who attend weak schools, but perform highly would be awarded extra points, while those who perform well at top public schools would have points taken off. All pupils would then be ranked, based on their final scores.
The response from Nick Gibb, the schools minister, Andy Burnham, Labour’s shadow education secretary and Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, has been, broadly speaking, unenthusiastic. They seem to feel that schools can do more to enhance the ambition of their students, encourage them to apply for the top universities, etc. But schools have always been motivated and under pressure to do this – it is hard to see what more most schools can do in this respect.
I think that one reason the idea has met with a relatively frosty reception is that there is an unspoken realization that universities are, in their different ways, already making haphazard adjustments on the basis of the school that an applicant has attended. This is true at every level of the university spectrum, from the Russell Group downwards, and most schools and universities would rather the process of adjustment remained subjective and unofficial, perhaps in order to avoid all sorts of legal minefields.
But there is no doubt that students should be credited with success in a variety of difficult circumstances. I would argue that this is particularly true for our own students at Oxford Home Schooling, because those who opt for home schooling face a number of obstacles that children in “regular” schools do not face.
To achieve the same grades, they will need to develop qualities of organisation, resourcefulness, self-motivation and resilience, and these are all qualities which will give them a head start in higher education. Where universities are aware that good grades have been achieved in this context, it seems reasonable for them to give such a candidate appropriate offers.
If there is to be no official recognition that universities should take account of the school that a candidate has come from, the weighting remains very haphazard indeed. A typical admissions tutor cannot be expected to know that this comprehnsive is better than that comprehensive, so some candidates will be “luckier” than others. While this is not ideal, it seems to be better than trying to maintain the fiction that a grade B is worth exactly the same whatever the circumstances of study.
So I am inclined to agree with Deborah Orr in supporting Mr Stringer’s proposal.
It’s the first day of a new school year at the progressive comprehensive and one of the new arrivals is Ruth who has been home-schooled for quite some time by her divorced father. Ruth is only back in mainstream schooling because of pressure from her mother. It is clear that this is a highly dysfunctional family (or ex-family) and home-educated Ruth is portrayed as arrogant, over-confident, mouthy and devious. She dominates her first English lesson, dismissing TS Eliot’s The Waste Land as “simplistic”.
The script implies very clearly that these character flaws are the result of her isolating home-schooling experience.Â She is very unhappy to be back at school, attempts to get expelled and is a problem for the new head teacher (Amanda Burton) in all sorts of ways. Before the end of the first episode, she has run away and had to be rescued from theÂ freezing moors amidst much melodrama.
We can be fairly sure that if Ruth reappears in subsequent episodes, we will see the socialising influence of school life as she matures into a kind and sensible young lady. The message will be that she is much better off in school than while she was being “hot-housed” by her father.
All this may make good television drama but it is a world away from the typical family that takes on the challenge of home schooling.Â Although there are a small number of single parents who home-educate their children, it is much more likely that the mother and father are still very much together and equally committed to home education. Home schooling is not associated with dysfunctional family situations, quite the contrary.
Home-educated children do not turn out to be arrogant and sociopathic and there is no reason why home schooling should be an isolating experience. There is a strong and mutually supportive community of home schooling families out there as well as any number of other “normal” opportunities for children to integrate with their peers. They usually emerge from the experience balanced, resourceful and independent, but every child is different.
It would be good to see some positive and accurate depictions of home schooling and its effects in the media but perhaps they do not make such exciting television. It is to be hoped that Shed Productions, who are responsible for Waterloo Road, will offer a more constructive perspective in future episodes.
Today Ofsted has published a report called, without any apparent irony, ‘Children Missing from Education’. Anyone involved in home education will find its assumptions and conclusions highly questionable, at the very least.
The summary of the survey reads as follows:
‘Ofsted’s latest survey highlights the challenges local authorities face in identifying and tracking children who are missing from education. Children missing from education, and whose whereabouts become unknown, not only risk failing academically but are also potentially vulnerable to physical, emotional and psychological harm.
‘The Children missing from education report surveyed 15 local authorities of different sizes across England, in both urban and rural areas. It found that none of the authorities felt confident that they knew about all the children living in their area in order to fulfil their duties to keep children safe.’
The first and most obvious point to make is that although some children may be (shamefully!) missing from certain local authorities’ records, this does not mean they are missing from education. On the contrary, we can be sure that many of them are receiving a full and carefully-constructed education within the home environment.
At Oxford Home Schooling, we are supporting thousands of students in this category, most of them working successfully towards Key Stage 3, GCSE and A-level qualifications. Some of these youngsters have been assisted by their local authorities, others have been studiously ignored.
We are not aware of a single home-learner who is “vulnerable to physical, emotional and psychological harm”, although one can never be complacent. We work closely not just with the students but with their families and in the vast majority of cases, the families are close-knit, supportive and conscientious in their commitment to a high-quality education within the home environment.
Once again the tragic case of Khyra Ishaq is hauled into the debate, e.g. in the BBC’s report on the Ofsted survey, as if the tragedy would have been averted if the local authorities had had slightly different powers. In that case, the authorities had enough information and enough power to intervene but, for various reasons, did not do so in time.
The obvious lack of education taking place was the least of the apparent problems. But the authorities had the power to ask the Ishaq family to demonstrate that full-time and appropriate education was in place and, if evidence was not forthcoming, to issue a School Attendance Order. This seems to me to be an appropriate set of safeguards and procedures and it is a shame that they were not observed. For Ofsted to claim that local authorities are unable to deal with home-educated children is disingenuous in the extreme.
Ofsted are best known for their inspections of schools so it should come as no surprise that they are in favour of inspection of homes where home education is (or is not) taking place. At a time when a new government is putting quangoes to the sword, or, worse still, sending them to Coventry, it is understandable that it should seek to appropriate yet more powers and generate the work that might save a few of their own jobs.
But they are unlikely to get their wish. This is partly because of the near-universal hostility to the idea of inspection amongst the bona fide home-schooling community (e.g. HEAS). Perhaps more importantly, the timing is all wrong. The Labour government, during three terms in office, might have sought to apply the same level of bureaucratic control to home schooling as it has done to other aspects of education, but it did not do so in the end.
The Con-Lib coalition has a a very different philosophy. At a time when the government is seeking to reduce cost, bureaucracy and the “nanny state”, it is highly unlikely to tamper with the delicate balance of freedoms, controls and responsibilities which is currently applied to the home education sector. In that context, Ofsted’s report will be pereceived as an empty gesture.
Our experience at OHS is that local authorities vary enormously in their treatment of home learners. Some do not even have the mechanisms to find out from the schools involved that a particular pupil has been withdrawn. It would be a good idea to put effective systems in place, right across the country, to ensure that schools do always share this information. Home-educating families can then be positively supported rather than suspiciously monitored and inspected. But there is a world of difference between the provision of resources, tutors and perhaps even funding and the kind of unwelcome control that Ofsted offers.
(Dr) Nicholas Smith,
Principal, Oxford Home Schooling